If you’re in the class of 2020, an exciting, truly coming-of-age event is happening in two days: on August 1st, the Common App will open! This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for—YOUR chance to begin your college applications, show yourself in the best possible light, and get into the college of your dreams!
And this is YOUR one-stop post to figure out all your Common App needs. First, I will update you on what’s new, then I will lead you through the process, one Ivy Lounge Test Prep article at a time!
What’s New On the Common App 2019-2020
There are several “user-experience” updates to the Common App website, including:
Improved site search
Enhanced college search and more thorough details about member colleges, like virtual tours!
New application guides for first year and transfer students
Expanded college roadmap, to help not only first year (that’s YOU) and transfer students, but also other types of students who may be applying to college, like community college students, adult and returning learners, and service members and military veterans.
A new version of Common App Ready, a toolkit to help students be more prepared.
Better compatibility with your mobile phone—apply to college or change something on the go!
Updates to the criminal history section (!)
Tweaked language and options in the Activities Section, so you can account for time you spent on family responsibilities and community engagement.
New website integrations with different systems, like Naviance.
If you are applying as a transfer student, there are some Common App website enhancements just for YOU, like:
Transfer member-specific fee waivers
Integration with Slideroom
More detailed instructions for transcript requests
Ability to edit your application after you submit it
Flexible coursework entry onto the site
URLs for specific programs
Reuse of the recommendation form (so a recommender can repurpose the same letter of recommendation to multiple schools you’re applying to).
NOW, to help you at every turn of your Common App college application process, let me walk you through the resources that will prime you for success in my
Step-by-Step Common App guide
1) Understand the Common App
Before you begin, here’s what you need to read in order to understand the different sections that are required of you and get the lay of the land: my thorough overview of the Common App. (If you’re REALLY in a hurry, here’s the quicker guide to the Common App!)
2) Write a Winning Common App Essay
This is the BIGGEST piece of your application: a 650-word essay in which you show the heart and soul of who you are, what you stand for, and connect the disparate dots of the rest of your college application. It’s no easy task, but here’s what I suggest:
First, have a look at this year’s Common App essay prompts (spoiler alert: they’re the same as last year’s).
Next, read a popular post I wrote about how to find your Common App essay topic. Keep in mind that you can basically write about anything and it will fit into one of the prompts. So focus on what will show YOU off best, not on what answers a prompt question the best.
Then, BEFORE you start writing, learn what I mean when I tell you that “you need an Organizing Principle.” Your essay needs to pull together the disparate pieces of your application and your resume and tell the colleges you’re applying to who you REALLY are. It’s a big job…
…but I can help you do it. Check out the exercises I’ve laid out in this piece about how to find your Organizing Principle—it will help you articulate the deep self-awareness that makes for a winning Common App essay.
If you find you get stuck in the writing process, let me help you beat Common App Essay writer’s block.
3) Craft a Winning Common App Activities List
After your main essay, your Activities List gives your application readers the best overview into who you are and how you’ll contribute to their campus. And yet, I see people wasting the opportunities of this section with disappointing regularity (at least before I shine things up, that is)! It’s imperative that you organize and frame every item on your list to give you the most bang for your 10-activities-maximum list. This piece tells you how to write the Common App Activities List that gets you in—make that admission reader sit up and take notice!
4) Write Effective Supplemental Essays for Individual Schools (Yes, That Means the “Why This College” Essay!)
After the sections for the main Common App are done, you still may have more work to do, depending on which schools you’re applying to. Every college has the option of requiring supplemental (or “additional”) essays for THEIR particular application. These themselves can take significantly longer than doing the basic Common App, so don’t wait until the deadline to think of these! The most common supplemental essay universities ask for is some variation on “Why us?” or “Why do you want to attend our college?” Here’s how to write the “Why This School” Essay—it works for my students, and it can work for you too!
5) Avoid Some Common (and Some Not-So-Common) Mistakes
Please review a classic from this blog—this list of the 10 worst ways to market yourself to colleges—before hitting submit! Yes, despite how crazy some of them are, ALL of those “strategies” are very, very real…and very real mistakes. You’ll thank me later!
6) Finalize your Common Application!
If you’ve worked through this post step by step, you’ll be in great shape to send in your college applications with confidence. But it’s still hard to pull the trigger! How can you be sure that you’ve done absolutely everything you can to make sure that your dream school sees you in your best light? Use my final checklist before you submit your Common App.
Phew! That was a LOT, but there you have it: EVERYTHING you need to know about crafting the perfect college application on the Common App! And as always, if you need personalized help, please contact me here.